A series of three poems open Ceremony. The first poem tells of Ts'its'tsi'nako, thought-woman, the spider, who created the world with her sisters by thinking and naming things. The poem ends with the lines:
"I'm telling you the story she is thinking."
The second poem is entitled "Ceremony" and focuses on the power of stories, which contain, among other things, rituals and ceremony. The third poem, "What she said" simply reads:
"The only cure I know is a good ceremony, that's what she said."
The poems are followed by a blank page with the word "sunrise," after which the narrative begins.
Tayo tosses and turns, slipping between dreams of his home where Laguna and Mexican Spanish are spoken and dreams of his time during World War II in the Philippines, where he is surrounded by the sounds of Japanese. Waking, Tayo thinks about how confused his memories and dreams are. The only way for him to relax is to hold an image of a deer in his mind, but his mind quickly wanders to the Philippines, where in the humid climate, he thought he saw his uncle Josiah among a group of Japanese soldiers he was ordered to shoot. Even when his cousin Rocky turned over the dead bodies of the Japanese soldiers and reasoned the impossibility of the image with him, Tayo was sure his uncle was among the dead.